Both parties in the House failed to muster enough votes to extend controversial provisions of the Patriot Act on February 8, which required a two-thirds majority. Some commentators have chosen to focus on the lack of discipline within the parties; both the Obama administration and GOP leadership favor the extension, but neither was able to whip enough congressmen onto the bandwagon. However, the bigger story is how many Republicans—including a number of “tea party” freshmen who campaigned last year as defenders of the Constitution—voted against the Fourth Amendment, as though it is somehow less important than the others.
Specifically, the provisions permit the federal government to spy on U.S. citizens (perhaps “subjects” would be more appropriate in this case) by using roving wiretaps in the name of combatting terrorism, allow monitoring of noncitizens, and give broad authority over records and private property.
After two years of frantic shrieking about the Obama administration’s shredding of the Constitution and unprecedented expansion of the federal government, one would think that Republican lawmakers, entrusted with control of the House of Representatives by the American people, would view such a vote as a golden opportunity to restrict government’s ability to intrude into innocent citizens’ private lives.
Yet a mere twenty-six out of 241 Republicans voted against the extension; of those twenty-six, only eight were newcomers, swept into office by a nonpartisan Tea Party that continues to demand smaller, less intrusive government. After the biggest power shift in decades, the recipients of the public’s favor show their gratitude by trampling on civil liberties.
This is not to suggest that Democrats deserve any credit for opposing the extension 122 to 67. This time last year, the Democrat-controlled Congress pushed through some of the same unconstitutional provisions with no debate, only a few years after crucifying the Bush administration for creating them, in a stunning example of ideological hypocrisy that liberal commentators conveniently neglected to notice.
But Democrats do not control the House. Republicans do. It’s up to them to defend personal liberty and deny the Obama administration the far-reaching police powers it craves. Does the GOP need to be reminded that there will be a presidential election in the near future, the importance of which cannot be overstated, and that the only way to stay in the voting public’s good graces is to practice consistent, constitutional conservatism?
Is there a rational thought process behind ignoring constituents and blatantly breaking campaign promises? Has the GOP leadership implemented a new, unusual strategy—one based on reverse psychology? Perhaps Republicans want to relinquish control of the House, and watch passively as the radical wing of the Democratic Party transforms the U.S. into an authoritarian dystopia.
If that’s the case, they’ll likely get their wish in 2012. Despite a decade of intense government propaganda, driven into American minds with the aid of a compliant pro-establishment media—“We need more power over your life to keep you safe from terrorists” is the usual theme—the average voter does not approve of Big Brother’s roving wiretaps, or snooping through private records. Ordinary people don’t like the idea of some creep with a badge listening to their phone conversations, and don’t like the politicians who authorize such unwarranted violations of their right to privacy.
The 2012 Iowa Caucuses are less than one year away. Already, potential challengers are testing the waters. Let us hope, for the sake of the republic—for the sake of liberty itself—that the 210 House Republicans who voted against the Constitution recognize the mistake they’ve made, remember why they’re in Washington, and start respecting the people who sent them there.